Steps to consider when caring for an aging parent
by Jean Gordon Carter
Mom is getting slower and more forgetful, but your children have soccer games and other commitments to fulfill. Between kids and aging parents, adult children of the sandwich generation often find themselves attempting to care for all family members. Luckily, a few legal steps can make this balancing act a little easier.
Perhaps most importantly, an aging parent and adult child should talk realistically about their situation. They should make a family plan that addresses the parent’s physical well-being while also building a strong support system for all parties. Each side must recognize and appreciate the competing needs of other family members to create a plan that makes sense for everyone. Siblings must work together to support each other as they assist their parent. As these conversations occur, the family should consider the necessary legal documents that will complement their plan.
The first document is a general power of attorney, often referred to as a durable power of attorney. This legal power, which either can take effect immediately or be triggered by a physician’s determination of incompetency, permits the adult child to care for the parent’s business and financial needs in an efficient way. It also eliminates the need for a court proceeding to determine incompetence and appoint a guardian to handle financial actions.
The family also should consider a health care power of attorney. This legal document lets the adult child act as the health care agent and make medical decisions for the parent once that parent’s physician determines that he or she is unable to do so.
Many estate planners also recommend a document that helps waive federal privacy, or HIPAA, laws to permit health care providers to talk candidly with family members about the proper steps for a parent’s care. The parent should talk with his or her physician and provide consent for such discussions, waiving privacy laws when possible and appropriate.
Lastly, a living will — known formally as an advance directive for a natural death — can take the burden of final decisions from adult children and can make the final acts of caring for an aging parent much less difficult.
Candid family discussions, designating proper agents, and establishing a living will are a few proactive measures to help handle the emotional and physical challenges of an aging parent. A little planning and communication can go a long way toward easing the burden for everyone.
Jean Gordon Carter is a partner in the Raleigh office of Hunton & Williams. Her practice focuses on federal, state and local tax and tax-exempt matters, estate planning, and administration.